Galaxies and AGNs

Modern astronomy has turned into a discipline which combines theory, numerical modelling and observations at all wavelengths. Studying the formation and evolution of galaxies, which is one of its major ingredients, requires surveying large patches of the sky at different wavelengths. Indeed, optical and infrared galaxy surveys are handles to study the stellar content, while radio and X-ray surveys highlight the massive black holes that inhabit galaxy centres.

Understanding galaxy formation and evolution requires tracing the cosmic history of both (stars and black massive holes) components in galaxies. This is overarching theme of this research line.

Participation in a number of large programmes, like ALHAMBRA, PAU, OTELO and several XMM-Newton surveys, will turn into leadership on several aspects of them. Also, participation in future X-ray astronomy missions (IXO in the long run) is a clear goal of the line.

Scientific exploitation of these facilities and projects requires active participation in their design and development. We will continue to take part in the development of astronomical and space instrumentation, one of the strategic goals of CSIC, mostly through the consolidation of our activities in the provision of astronomical data analysis software and pipelines, along with a strengthening of our links with hardware teams.

The main research lines in our group are:

Extragalactic Surveys

The study of several topics related to the evolution of galaxies in the Universe. We carry out multiwavelength wide-area surveys to obtain information about  large samples of galaxies. The group is involved in the definition of particular surveys as well as in the explotation of existent public surveys; we also develop tools to select targets and to analyse data.

Our scientific interests include: the study of the star-formation history of the Universe; determination of the density of galaxy populations such as starbursts, dwarf galaxies, AGNs, quasars, etc.; identification of high-redshift galaxies and quasars; metallicity evolution; physics of broad absorption line (BAL) quasars.

The group is currently involved in the following surveys:




Intrumentation for Large Telescopes



ATHENA:  A mission to understand the hot and energetic Universe

Almost half of the baryons (ordinary matter) in the Universe have a temperature in excess of a million degrees, forming large-scale cosmic structures. There is an intimate relation between this component and the energy deposited on large scales by giant black holes during their growth phases. The Hot and Energetic Universe is one of the themes proposed to ESA for the upcoming Large mission (L2) opportunity due for launch in 2028, within the framework of the Cosmic Vision programme. This mission is called Athena. Group members are part of the "Athena Coordination Group" as well as of the science team that has prepared this proposal.


One of the two focal plane instruments of the proposed mission ATHENA, is a cryogenic X-ray calorimeter (X-IFU) based on TES (Transition Edge Sensor) technology for X-ray detection. As part of the collaboration for the development of this instument  our group is working on the design of the software to detect and qualify the events (pulses generated by the X-ray photons in the detector) and to perform the instrument characterization.


ARCHES : Astronomical Resource Cross-matching for High Energy Studies.


This project fits within the activities of our group, combining our involvement in the XMM-Newton observatory and its source catalogues with our interest on multi-wavelength astronomy, mainly on the properties of Active Galactic Nuclei. We will collaborate in the development of a sophisticated tool to identify the same astronomical source across several catalogues at different wavelengths, building automatically their Spectral Energy Distributions, to be used at a later stage to study their physical nature. In particular, we will lead the exploratory scientific exploitation about Active Galactic Nuclei within this project.


Quasars with star formation


Among our activities to understand better the interaction between the growth of supermassive black holes and the growth of their host galaxies, we are carrying out a study of a sample of X-ray luminous broad-line quasars (hence still feeding their central supermassive black hole copiously) and also luminous in the far infrared (indicative of active star formation and a growing host galaxy). In addition, these objects also show hints of over-densities of sub-millimetre galaxies (also forming stars massively) in their environments, which would place these quasars in the centres of growing structures in the primitive Universe. In collaboration with colleagues at MSSL (University College London, UK) and at the Centre for Astrophysics Research (University of Hertfordshire, UK) we are observing and analysing these objects across the wide electromagnetic spectrum (from X-rays to radio) to understand their nature and place them in the fiercely-debated landscape of co-evolution of galaxies and their active nuclei.


The Bright Ultra-hard XMM-Newton Survey (BUXS): Obscured black hole growth in the z<1 Universe


BUXS is a large scale AGN survey project in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Leicester (UK) and the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera (Italy) that will determine the X-ray luminosity function of luminous type 1 and type 2 AGN and its cosmological evolution in the z<1 Universe. BUXS is one of the largest, among the existing XMM-Newton and Chandra surveys, flux-limited sample of X-ray  bright sources selected at ’ultra-hard’ X-ray energies (4.5-10 keV). The survey consists of 258 AGN detected over a total sky area of more than ~44 deg2 of which 98% are currently identified through an extensive program of optical spectroscopic follow-up. So far BUXS has been used to define a highly reliable and efficient infrared selection technique of AGN based on data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and it is currently been used to determine the emission properties of the circumnuclear dust in luminous AGN.


A mid-infrared survey of AGN using CanariCam on the GTC


We are carrying out a mid-IR survey of local AGN using the CanariCam instrument on the 10.4m Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC). We are obtaining 8.7micron imaging and 8-13micron spectroscopy with angular resolutions of 0.3-0.6arcsecond. The sample contains 100 AGN covering about 6 orders of magnitude in AGN luminosity and probing different AGN classes (low luminosity AGN, Seyferts, radio galaxies, quasars, LIRGs and ULIRGs). The main goals of this project are: (1) to test whether the properties of the dusty tori of the AGN Unified Model depend on the AGN type, (2) to study the nuclear star formation activity and obscuration of local AGN, and (3) to explore the role of the dusty torus in low luminosity AGN.


Group Publications  (external link)  



Instituto de Física de Cantabria
Edificio Juan Jordá
Avenida de los Castros, s/n
E-39005 Santander
Cantabria, España

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El Instituto de Física de Cantabria es un Centro Mixto del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas y de la Universidad de Cantabria.

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